Thursday, April 22, 2010

That New Kid Over in Riverdale...

I don't write about Archie Comics here very often. They don't give me reason to. But I'd feel pretty left out if I didn't offer my stupid opinion on Kevin, the first openly gay character in the Riverdale cast. I'm sure everyone else is going to, so why shouldn't I? And I wrote "openly" because we don't know who might or might not be closeted or questioning.

Anyway, here comes Kevin in a splash of self-congratulatory publicity and potential blog-blowhard (like me!) explosion. And I have a mostly positive view on this, with a few caveats.

It's not as if Kevin were the first openly gay character in comics. So it feels a little odd patting Archie Comics on the back for doing this so far behind the curve. Gilberto Hernandez frequently features gay protagonists with zero fanfare (just his usual topnotch storytelling skills), while both DC and Marvel often trumpet their characters' sexuality for a quick publicity jolt and possible short term sales boost. But the fiction-writing aesthetics and ethics of that kind of stuff are two essays unto themselves (or possibly one giant essay), and probably not one I'm qualified to write. On the other hand, Archie Comics isn't Fantagraphics, so perhaps the comparisons aren't completely fair. People think of Archie Comics primarily as kids' comics, perhaps the last ones aimed at the medium's original demographic; I can see a few commentators of a particular political or religious stripe taking dead aim at Archie in an attempt to fight one of those "culture war" battles over this.

I'm more concerned with characterization. I wouldn't want "Veronica's gay friend" to become Kevin's sole defining characteristic. While depth of characterization and Archie Comics aren't two concepts that usually go together, I hope Kevin grows beyond the initial "world's hunkiest guy who can do anything and... hey, he's gay!" introduction. Give him a real personality and interests outside simply being "the gay character we stuck in a story or two, then decided not to use again because that's pretty much as far as our thinking carried us."

They also need to have Kevin date. If they really want to show progress, he shouldn't be gay in character description only. Once he's part of Archie's world, they need to do some stories where Kevin has the same kind of romantic quandaries as the rest of the gang, with the same level of fun and lightness as any of Archie's love triangles. You don't have to explain it or justify it, just make the stories entertaining and funny.

And finally, I wonder why it couldn't have been an established character rather than this newly-created person. The obvious candidate would be Jughead, but that's too easy. Reggie would be an intriguing choice, but that would eliminate Archie's greatest rival. Still, the Riverdale cast is huge, so there are plenty of others to choose from and I'd bet on one or more of them being gay, bi, transgendered or some combination just from a statistical analysis. They've got more people walking around than in Hoppers and Palomar combined.

On the other hand, and this more than trumps my little concerns... it's a gay character in Archie Comics, where no doubt his portrayal will be positive and affirming:

"The introduction of Kevin is just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive. Archie's hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone," said Archie Comics Co- CEO Jon Goldwater in the release. "It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books."

I like that. A safe world for everyone. I like the idea of Riverdale being the kind of place where your worst experience is having to choose between two equally awesome dates for the high school prom rather than your high school cancelling your prom simply because you exist.

Occasionally Archie Comics does something that fills me with a kind of nostalgic warmth and makes me want to start reading them again. The last time was when they introduced Kumi, the exchange student from Japan, and hired Misako Rocks! to script (they need her to write and draw a few more, by the way). As a result, Kumi is one of the few believably Japanese characters in American comics, with an authenticity of voice not found in the usual offerings. Without all the stereotypical martial arts trappings, samurai ancestors, yakuza relatives or blue hair for no reason. You know, Katana from Batman and the Outsiders, Armor from Astonishing X-Men, Surge, Silver Samurai, the second Dr. Light, Colleen Wing and the like. None of that stuff would fit Riverdale, but the Archie people could have botched Kumi and her family in any number of other ways. Instead, they got it right.

That in itself was a hell of an achievement for an American comic company. If Kevin's conceptualization comes close to Kumi's, then Archie Comics will really have cause to celebrate themselves. And we will, too.

8 comments:

Jean-François said...

Hi Joel, just wanted to thank you for the two posts on "the many styles of" L&R characters, I am not much into fashion but I love those comix!! Any plan on doing that for other characters like Izzy, Maggie, Terry, Ray.... It would be neat! ;)

Also I was wondering if you know about any video where you can see how Xaime draws panels from a comic book, I can't find anything well focused except maybe one where he draws maggie...

thanks again and if you ever come to France you have a guide to show you around, albeit me ;)

Joel Bryan said...

Hi Jean-Francois-- I'm thinking a lot about doing some posts on Ray and Terry. I probably should do one on Maggie, as well. I haven't seen any videos like that other than the one you described. If I find one, I'll let you know!

Thanks for the comment and thanks for the guide offer as well! I'm hoping to visit France sometime in the near future indeed. So thanks again!

Jean-François said...

cool!

let me know when you come to France, I live in Clermont-Ferrand, right in the middle but I am originaly from Lyon, the second biggest city, and a nice one at that. There's a cool comics shop there. Also Clermont-Ferrand is not very far from Angoulème where they have the european comics con but I have never been there, yet...

Joel Bryan said...

Awesome! That area sounds incredibly cool! Thanks!

Jean-François said...

Could uou send me an email adress, I'd like to send you a really nice picture by Xaime that I can't remember where I got it from, or from which story it was taken. Maybe you know it and can tell me... petitpickledpunk[at]gmail.com

Joel Bryan said...

Thanks! I tried to email you but gmail bounced it. I'll try again this weekend from my own gmail account!

Jean-François said...

Hi Joel, I put the picture there http://picasaweb.google.com/PetitPickledPunk/LR#

Let me know if it rings a bell, it's from 83 that's all I know...

Joel Bryan said...

Sorry it took so long to check that out! I was travelling between Tokyo and the States.

Thanks for posting that pic. I've definitely seen it before, maybe in one of the L&R albums. I'm not sure if it's from an actual story or if it's a promotional piece, or just a spot illustration.

Whatever it is, it's one of my favorite images. Actually, I love any of Jaime's "live show" drawings. He always gets the feel right. Such an observer of a scene.